YUHSD teachers face learning curve
The Helios Education Foundation recently awarded the Yuma Union High School District a $3.9 million grant for the Ready Now Yuma program, with the goal of having every graduate prepared to succeed in a college or a career. This series will look at the funding, how it will be used and what the implications are for YUHSD.
With nine years' traditional teaching under her belt, Laura Campbell tried something new last year. Campbell taught her freshman biology class using the Cambridge program of study, which allows teachers to tailor the material to the individual learner.
Campbell taught eighth-grade science for four years and biology at Gila Ridge High School the past four. This past year she shifted her approach. Campbell, as well as other teachers in the Yuma Union High School District, moved to more of a facilitator role in the class, allowing students to think creatively and explore their interests at a deeper level.
”Students became the driver of their learning instead of teachers driving the class,” Campbell explained. “Our tests were no longer simple multiple choice but involved short answer, writing, problem solving and application.”
The new curriculum is part of Ready Now Yuma, a partnership made possible through a $3.9 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation.
The goal is to graduate every student ready for college or a career. Students who progress quickly can take the tests and continue to be challenged within the curriculum. Students who need more time can take it.
More than 150 district teachers have already gone through some form of Cambridge professional development training. As part of the pilot program, ninth-grade teachers as well as school and district leaders attended professional development training that introduced the Cambridge program.
Experts who have been using Cambridge for 10 or more years presented them with best practices, what they've learned, hands-on activities and answered their questions.
Aside from three full days of professional development, they participated in ongoing collaboration throughout the year.
“It has been important to access experts and other professionals so we can better meet the needs of our kids,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who also served as curriculum leader for biology and led the campus RNY Design Team last year, has been appointed as the RNY director for the coming school year.
“My teaching style, and that of all teachers in the district, was very much changed and we are continuing to learn and grow,” she said.
The district brought in the more-rigorous Cambridge curriculum after observing that more students were taking advanced courses but not performing as well as they should on the in-course exams.
As a result of the initiative, teachers are challenging students to think and solve problems.
“Because of our student-centered classes, we are reaching all ranges of learners and helping more students succeed at higher levels,” Campbell noted.
Traditionally teachers are very protective of their classroom and work in “silos,” not sharing information with other teachers and/or schools.
“Teaching should not be an isolating profession. We serve as models of lifelong learning to our students. Therefore, we should be open to collaboration with others in our profession,” Campbell said.
With Ready Now Yuma and the Cambridge program, YUHSD teachers are working with other teachers across all of the high schools within their core content areas (math, science, English and history).
One of the most profound changes is a cultural shift from “my” students to “our” students. The conversations now focus more on how “our” students are doing. It's much more of a “we're all in this together” mentality. They shared what they were learning and where they were having successes, troubleshooting and planning together.
Teachers moved to a co-teaching model where teachers of special needs students, for example, are working with content expert teachers in the classroom, supporting the success of all students.
Campbell has already noticed a big difference in how teachers are working together. “We are sharing ideas and working to improve lessons by collaborating with our sister schools. We meet to discuss and compile assessments and benchmarks and spend time discussing and analyzing data to track student achievement.”
Changing from being teacher-centered to student-centered has “made it important to reach out to and learn from others who have been using this format for a number of years,” Campbell added.
Although the Cambridge program is new to the district and Arizona, YUHSD has access to a global network of teachers and leaders who have gone down this path before.
In another change, teachers are striving to be facilitators or guides in the student's learning, not just the person who stands at the front of the room to “impart knowledge.” In a Cambridge classroom, the teacher provides some background, explains the assignment and then the student is left to develop how they will go about organizing, analyzing and synthesizing what they are learning.
In addition to teachers, counselors will be going through more training this year as well. Their training will focus on helping students plan their high school career path and presenting upper-level options as well as reinforcing the importance of postsecondary education.
With a successful first year, teachers faced a huge learning curve. But they are working through the challenges and changes.
For Campbell, the biggest change was “simply learning alongside my kids. They taught me a lot about teaching, learning and even science this year.
“For my fellow teachers, it was working as a true professional learning community across the district.”
YUHSD redefines role of department chair
Under Ready Now Yuma, the Yuma Union High School District hasn't completely moved away from department chairs, but it has redefined the role.
RNY director Laura Campbell, who served as curriculum leader for biology and led the campus RNY Design Team last year, said it is now much less managerial and much more collaborative because how teachers plan and work together has changed.
Campbell said there is much more cross-campus and cross-district collaboration. For example, math teachers/chairs on all of the high school campuses work together in planning, co-creating what happens in the classrooms, sharing resources, experiences and knowledge in a way that didn't happen before.
“The key is working as professional learning/data teams to improve instruction thereby improving student achievement. Our DCs (department chairs) are master teachers on campus who are facilitating discussions about data, curriculum and instruction to improve the entire school community as we move forward with RNY,” Campbell said.
The shift allows teachers to provide consistency, continue to support and challenge each other as well as innovate together. The Cambridge curriculum provides them with flexibility in how they deliver the content and engage the students.
This new way of working together allows the teachers to share their successes, troubleshoot together, learn from each other, etc., Campbell said it's one of the ways that has helped everyone look at all students as “our students,” not just “your students” and “my students.”
The chair is still responsible for teacher evaluations and supplies. However, other teachers and administrators were in and out of classrooms last year, watching instruction and providing teachers with constructive feedback to improve their craft.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.